Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Emma Newman talks about BETWEEN TWO THORNS

My Favorite Bit icon
For full disclosure, I blurbed Between Two Thorns and said this. “Emma Newman has created a reflection of Bath that reminds one that charming is not safe. Between Two Thorns shows the darkness beneath the glamour of the social Season. Learning to be a young lady has never seemed so dangerous.”

I strongly suspect that you will like this book and today is its release day so it’s easy to pick up a copy and find out if I’m right.

Meanwhile, let’s find out what Emma’s Favorite Bit is.


There’s a song I love with lyrics describing how a man feels about the woman he loves. You get a sense of it being unrequited but how many times have love stories started this way?

Between Two Thorns by Emma NewmanIt’s sweet and cheerful. Then the last two lines of the song are about the police dragging him away. You realise – with horror – that you’ve just listened to an obsessive stalker waxing lyrical about the woman he’s targeting. It never stops being bright and upbeat but, just like when you learn someone you love has died on a beautiful summer’s day, there’s no warmth or happiness any more. You’re just left shivering. The song is ‘Lily’ by the Smashing Pumpkins.

But I’m here to talk about my favourite bit in Between Two Thorns!

That bit is a conversation between one of the main characters, Cathy, who was born into a ‘Nether’ family and their immortal Fae patron, Lord Poppy.

The privileged life for a woman in the Nether comes with forced marriage, no right to property and very little say in how she lives her life. It has more in common with Regency England than the modern day but with a critical difference; no-one ages whilst they live there. The same men have been the heads of the Great Families for hundreds of years and there are none of the technological and economic pressures that create social change. Cathy engineers her escape, lives – and ages – just like any young woman in Mundanus until the day she is found again by Lord Poppy.

He’s intrigued as he can’t understand how she’s evaded capture for so long but Cathy knows that if she says the wrong thing he will do the most terrible things to her. Every time she answers a question it’s a gamble; there’s no way to predict how he will react.

“So something happened that made you want to stay in Mundanus, even though it would age you? Even though it would disgrace your family and you’d live a cursed life?”

“Yes,” she said, throat dry. She couldn’t reveal everything, she’d never tell anyone the real reason she’d fled her family. But she had to give him a sliver to be believable. “I fell in love with Mundanus. I didn’t want to go back and live in the Nether like everyone in the Great Families. I couldn’t bear to leave it. So I ran away and hid from my family so they couldn’t stop me living there.”

Eyebrows high, he sucked in a breath and the hand that had caught hers fluttered over his chest. “Oh! Oh darling child I understand. I know what agony it is to fall in love with something we can never have. And what deserves our love and attention more than Mundanus? Poor, empty world, denied our gifts and beneficence for so long!” He clasped her hand again, this time pressing it over his heart, but she felt no beat through the silk shirt. “Now I understand what a delicious creature of passion you are, it was buried so far beneath an inconsequential face and forgettable body that I almost missed it!”

Whilst her gamble pays off, Cathy has a new problem: Lord Poppy finds her interesting enough to bestow a gift of three wishes upon her. After all, if she can run away and survive in a world without magic and servants, what interesting things could she do with those? Cathy’s no fool; she knows the wishes are more likely to get herself into even more trouble but she can’t refuse. All the while, Cathy has to remain polite and make sure she doesn’t say anything unwise as her freedom and the chance of living the life she struggled so hard to create are being destroyed.

Lord Poppy talks about doing the most awful things in the same way that one might talk about taking someone out for ice-cream. When she makes a comment about being glad he understands why she ran away, thinking the worst of the threat is over, he says;

“As am I! I arrived with a heavy heart, convinced that I was going to have to turn your tongue into a tethered wasp and then enslave you for eternity for having been so disloyal to your family.” He paused as the colour sank away from her lips. “But now I don’t have to, because I understand that it was love that drove you, and how can I deny love? And it really is such a relief, as it would have been so inconvenient, everything has been arranged for so long I was struggling to imagine how I would recover.”

This is why it makes me think of that song; he describes something chilling in a cheerful, upbeat way. And that’s the main reason this is my favourite bit; because the things I find the most frightening are not blood and gore and zombies (though they can be scary). No, the things that are the most horrifying lie beneath a veneer of beauty and don’t appear to be anything other than lovely until it’s far too late.

Just like the Fae.


Between Two Thorns  amazon | B&N | indiebound | audible (narrated by the author)


Emma Newman was born in a tiny coastal village in Cornwall during one of the hottest summers on record and now lives in Somerset, England. She writes dark short stories, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy novels and records audiobooks in all genres. Her hobbies include dressmaking and gaming and she drinks far too much tea. She blogs at, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms.

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about PANTOMIME

My Favorite Bit iconThere is a fascinating element to Laura Lam’s new book Pantomime that I can’t tell you about. So instead, I’m just going to show you the official blurb.

R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

So what is Laura’s Favorite Bit?


One of my favourite aspects of the world-building of Pantomime is Vestige. Long ago, a race called the Alder ruled the world, and they created beings called Chimaera. Now, in Ellada and the Archipelago, the Alder and their Chimaera are gone, and all they have left behind is Vestige: advanced technology that might be magical. Societies rely on practical Vestige such as weapons and industry tools, but many artefacts serve no “useful” purpose and are instead curiosities collected by the rich.

Pantomime by Laura LamI had the idea for a certain bit of Vestige when I went back to San Francisco for a visit. I grew up in the East Bay and now live in Scotland. When I went back, I started doing some of the touristy things I’d never done before. My friend recommended the Musée Mechanique at Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf (warning: if you click on the link there’s an automatic recording of “Laughing Sal” which sounds like it’s straight from a nightmare). We wandered around over 300 arcade games, orchestrions, antique slot machines, and animations. I found them fun, and also a little sinister.

So I sent two characters in Pantomime to the Museum of Mechanical Antiquities, full of Vestige curiosities. Micah Grey, my protagonist, had been there has a child and had fond memories. There, the visitors look at technology more advanced than they could ever hope to create, such as the clockwork woman:

This one is my favorite,” I whispered into her ear.

It was a clockwork woman’s head. She was life-sized, and her proportions were Alder – large eyes, high cheekbones and eyebrows, long neck. Even at rest, a muffled ticking could be heard through the glass. Her face had a strange skin, realistic in every way but for the fact it was transparent. The gears and pulleys of her face visible underneath looked to be made of brass. Her eyes were uncannily real, the irises a strange mixture of blue, green, hazel, and topaz, the eyelashes copper. The eyelids blinked occasionally. The father put the coins into the slot. Everyone else who had been following the noble couple gathered around again.

The clockwork head awoke. She shook her head, blinked rapidly, and twitched her pale pink lips. She yawned, and her tongue was as mechanical as the rest of her, the teeth impossibly even and white. Her face settled into a pleasant smile and she stared straight ahead, almost expectant.

This piece of Vestige has levers connected to pressure points at the base of her neck. When someone pulls the lever, she shows a different emotion. Micah and the other visitors are amazed by the sight of a mechanical object uncannily mimicking a human. There’s also the undercurrent of eeriness, because they do not know where she came from or how she was made.

That is a feeling that pervades Pantomime and its world, riven with technology that is winding down. When an artifact breaks, they lack the knowledge to fix it. Only the Alder and the Chimaera know how, and they’re long gone.

Or are they?


Pantomime (Strange Chemistry)


Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.

She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS

My Favorite Bit iconMarie Brennan’s novel A Natural History of Dragons is exactly calculated to please. It is the memoir of Lady Trent and captures the tone of memoirs from the 1800s with delightful aptitude. You know how much I adore language and this novel hits all my sweet spots, as well as offering rollicking adventures with dragons.

Oh, and did I mention that it is illustrated? Mmm…

What’s Marie’s Favorite Bit?


When I set out to write the Memoirs of Lady Trent, I knew I wanted two main ingredients in the stew: natural history (specifically as applied to dragons), and pulp-style adventure.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie BrennanBut pulp adventure isn’t something I’ve really done before. So — true story — I went to my movie shelf, and to novels in the subgenre I intended to write, and started making a laundry list of motifs that show up in them. Hidden treasure! Ancient curses! Booby traps! Impassable terrain!


Mind you, there’s two kinds of archaeology out there, and only one of them is pulpy. I’m trained in the modern kind, that involves lots of very painstaking excavation and documentation to shed light on societies of the past. Indiana Jones is, shall we say, the other kind. But who can resist ruined temples and mysterious inscriptions? Not me, that’s for sure.

Which is where the Draconeans came from. Aesthetically speaking, they’re part Egypt, part Atlantis: an ancient civilization whose nature and downfall are almost completely unknown in the “modern” day (which is to say, the point at which my protagonist, Isabella, is doing her work; it’s more like our nineteenth century). Their architecture is based on that of Egypt, with megalithic pylons, hypostyle halls, and so on. Their art is Egyptian-style, too; it has the same flat, quasi-2D perspective, the same kinds of striding statues, etc. And they, like the Egyptians, had a writing system that the people of Isabella’s day are struggling to decipher.

But they’re like Atlantis in their mystery. Draconean civilization was much more widespread than the Egyptians ever dreamed of; their ruins are found all over the world. There are vague, mythical references to its collapse. Nobody really knows what the Draconeans were like, though, or why their empire fell. Even the name “Draconean” is a later invention, based on the fact that they worshipped dragons like gods. (Just as the Egyptians frequently attached animal heads to human bodies to represent their deities, so are dragon-headed human figures common in Draconean art.)

Only a little bit of this comes up in A Natural History of Dragons. During the expedition to Vystrana, Isabella visits a small Draconean ruin, which ends up being the site of several later plot points, but Draconean civilization itself doesn’t feature very heavily in the story . . . yet. See, the premise of the series required Isabella to be a natural historian, and I also made her an artist — partly because that’s a skill natural historians frequently had (in order to draw their subjects), and partly because it was an excuse to get some Todd Lockwood sketches as interior art. She has to be moderately competent with languages, in order to adventure all over the world, and needs a certain amount of derring-do. But I didn’t want to make her good at everything, and so I resisted the urge to make her an archaeologist.

That, I’ve saved for a character who will appear later in the series. He will be more than moderately competent with languages; he’ll be a linguist, studying Draconean inscriptions in an effort to break through, the way Jean-François Champollion and others did with Egyptian hieroglyphs. He’ll also be an archaeologist, more interested in the ancient dragon-worshipping civilization than the modern dragons Isabella’s chasing after.

And yeah — if you think the Draconeans are going to be an important plot point in the series as a whole, you would in fact be right. I just couldn’t put it all in Isabella’s lap; she has to work with other people to make the plot go.

But if you want to know where my heart really lies, it’s in those ruined temples, with their weathered art and silent inscriptions and archaeological mysteries. Because I just can’t resist that kind of thing.


We filed through into a large room enclosed by a dome of glass panels that let in the afternoon sunlight. We stood on a walkway that circled the room’s perimeter and overlooked a deep, sand-floored pit divided by heavy grates into three large pie-slice enclosures.

Within those enclosures were three dragons.

Forgetting myself entirely, I rushed to the rail. In the pit below me, a creature with scales of a faded topaz gold turned its long snout upward to look back at me. From behind my left shoulder, I heard a muffled exclamation, and then someone having a fainting spell. Some of the more adventurous gentlemen came to the railing and murmured amongst themselves, but I had no eyes for them — only for the dragon in the pit.

A heavy clanking sounded as it turned its head away from me, and I saw that a heavy collar bound its neck, connecting to a thick chain that ended at the wall. The gratings between the sections of the pit, I noticed, were doubled; in between each pair there was a gap, so the dragons could not snap at one another through the bars.

With slow, fascinated steps, I made my way around the room. The enclosure to the right held a muddy green lump, likewise chained, that did not look up as I passed. The third dragon was a spindly thing, white-scaled and pink-eyed: an albino.

Mr. Swargin waited at the rail by the entrance. Sparing him a glance, I saw that he watched everyone with careful eyes as they circulated about the room. He had warned us, at the outset of the tour, not to throw anything or make noises at the beasts; I suspected that was a particular concern here.

The golden dragon had retired to the farthest corner of its enclosure to gnaw on a large bone mostly stripped of meat. I studied it carefully, noting certain features of its anatomy, comparing its size against what appeared to be a cow femur. “Mr. Swargin,” I said, my eyes still on the dragon, “these aren’t juveniles, are they? They’re runts.”

“I beg your pardon?” the naturalist responded, turning to me.

“I might be wrong — I’ve only Edgeworth to go by, really, and he’s sadly lacking in illustrations — but my understanding was that species of true dragon do not develop the full ruff behind their heads until adulthood. I could not get a good view of the green one the next cage over — is that a Moulish swamp-wyrm? — but these cannot be full-grown adults, and considering the difficulties of keeping dragons in a menagerie, it seems to me that it might be simpler to collect runt specimens, rather than to deal with the eventual maturation of juveniles. Of course, maturation takes a long time, so one could –”

At that point, I realized what I was doing, and shut my mouth with a snap. Far too late, I fear; someone had already overheard.


A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent amazon | B&N | indiebound


Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at

My Favorite Bit: Myke Cole talks about FORTRESS FRONTIER

My Favorite Bit icon Myke Cole’s second novel, Fortress Frontier, is out today and it’s the book that makes you fall in love with military fiction, even if you don’t normally like it. It’s military fantasy — you know, like military SF only with magic. And really good writing.

It helps that Myke is actually in the military so the books feel grounded in real society.  So what’s his Favorite Bit?


There’s a reason folks want to work for big bureaucracies, whether corporations or government agencies. They’re famous for job security, stability, weathering storms be they political, social or economic. Especially these days, with the economy in a trough, folks speak wistfully about a ‘government job,’ an office where you can get your tasks done in four hours, and then spend the next four checking twitter.

ShadowOps_FortressFrontier_US_FinalWithin the conformity, there’s a certain freedom from supervision (which might be why more than one writer cut their teeth banging out manuscripts when they were supposed to be reviewing spreadsheets).

The secret here is anonymity. A drone in a bureaucracy is a needle in a haystack. Cause no trouble, and trouble will leave you be. Smooth sailing until retirement and then summers in a conversion van cruising the national parks with Dylan screeching on the radio.

There is no organization where this is truer than the US military. Want to fly below the radar? Ride the easy wave until you do your twenty and get out? You can absolutely do that in the US military. Lot’s of folks do. Keep your head down, do your job and don’t make waves.

But here’s the thing. As with all bureaucracies, there’s the risk that the organization’s mission will fall on you. You can do your best to keep your nose in the books and your mouth shut, and fortune and circumstance will find you anyway, single you out, and shine the spotlight on you. All you wanted was anonymity, and suddenly your name is on everyone’s lips. It’s down to you. A packed house of thousands, and everyone is watching.

Then there’s the big question. You didn’t want the spotlight, but you got it anyway.

Now, what do you do with it?

And that’s my favorite bit in FORTRESS FRONTIER.

Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat. He wears a soldier’s uniform and has risen to a high rank. But he’s a paper-pusher who’s never seen combat. Bookbinder knows that they need people like him, knows that he fills an important role, knows that the army couldn’t put warheads on foreheads without his help.

But, in his heart of hearts, he wonders. There is a nagging voice that reminds him that the primary purpose of a military is to kill people and destroy property. Can a man who has never done either call himself a soldier?

He has quietly advanced, earned the Colonel’s rank that has all and sundry tugging forelocks and stepping aside. He looks at these men and women who render him salutes and call him ‘sir,’ he knows that many of them have grappled with the enemy, firing rounds in anger, sheltering in place as the mortar fire came raining down. Is he worthy of the respect? Has he truly earned it?

The rank fades into the background as he does his daily work, until one day, when the commander of his besieged installation is murdered.

Chaos erupts around him. Fights break out, people run pell-mell, the efficient and disciplined organization that the army depends on goes to pieces. Bookbinder may be a bureaucrat, but he’s still a Colonel. He knows the importance of order in a crisis.

So, he shouts to have it restored. “God damn it! Who the hell is in command here?”

Stunned eyes turn toward him, foreheads crease in relief as they see the eagles on his shoulders.

He asked who was in command.

“You are, sir,” they say, waiting for instructions, “You are.”


Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier


As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

My Favorite Bit: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

My Favorite Bit iconI absolutely loved The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. It’s a science fiction novel that is about a young girl who is raised with an android for a tutor. What I find remarkable about the book is that the story stays intimate and never veers into The Fate of the World. In many ways, it feels more like mainstream women’s fiction than classic SF.  At the same time, it uses the SF lens to explore real issues of self and personhood in ways that I don’t think would be possible without the science-fictional concepts in it.

By focusing so tightly on one person and her journey, it gave a real sense of the wider world. Plus, I thought the language was hypnotic, which is always welcome. It  just pulled me through the book.

So what’s her Favorite Bit?


I enjoy dancing. I’m probably not particularly good at it (I’ve attempted enough team sports in my life to understand that my coordination skills are… poor, to put it mildly), but if there’s music playing, I’m probably moving. Or at least suppressing movement.

MadScientistsDaughter_bigUnfortunately, my circle of friends is made up largely of people who find the existence of night clubs both baffling and terrifying — and while I don’t hold it against them, their aversion has resulted in me funneling my dance-related urges into Zumba classes and, weirdly, my writing. For example, The Assassin’s Curse, my YA novel, contains a bit of dancing on board a pirate ship, and another as-yet-unreleased novel features a dancer as the main character.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is no exception to this unusual rule.

Dancing isn’t a common thread throughout the novel, but it does play a role in a pivotal scene early on. The main character, Cat, takes Finn, who is an android, to a rent party. Things progress as you might expect:

They danced for two hours. The party filled up the house and once people got drunk enough the band started playing and everyone danced, flailing around arrhythmically. Someone took the doors off the hinges and created an uninterrupted passageway between the inside of the house and the backyard, a corridor of sweat and music and flushed fevered bodies. Finn danced better than Cat expected, and she realized, drunk though she was, that he was copying the movements of the people around him, combining them to create something new. This was always how Cat danced as well. He did it more efficiently.

I love this scene for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was fun to think about how an android would approach dancing. Fiction often presents dancing as something inherently human, a reflection of our being alive (I’m looking at you, Matrix Reloaded) but the truth is, like most physical activities, it’s a series of movements, arranged in such way as to create beauty. I saw no reason why Finn’s more mechanical approach to dancing wouldn’t be successful, nor why Cat wouldn’t recognize her own human actions in it. I mean, we can program robots to dance now. (Seriously, go to Youtube and search for “dancing robots.” My post can wait.)

Another thing I love about this scene is the way the physical intensity of Cat and Finn’s dancing reflects a moment of emotional intensity that occurs a little later on. Going into too much detail would be a bit spoilery, but I will tell you this: in that scene, as music plays in the background, Cat learns a truth about Finn’s nature. She chooses in that moment to interpret the truth in a particular (and ultimately catastrophic) way, but the reality is much closer to Finn’s dancing: just how Cat does it, only more efficient.

Finally, there’s one other important aspect of this scene that I’d be loath to neglect — the music. After all, have you ever tried dancing without music? It’s difficult. In the text, I never specifically mention which song Finn and Cat are dancing to, but I always imagined it something similar to “Venus in Furs,” by the Velvet Underground. Not in terms of subject matter, but rather in terms of the sound of the song, which has always struck me as wild and desperate, even when you ignore the lyrics. It’s not an easy song to dance to, but if anyone would try, it’d be Cat and Finn.




The Mad Scientist’s Daughter  amazon | B&N | indiebound


Cassandra Rose Clarke is a speculative fiction writer living amongst the beige stucco and overgrown pecan trees of Houston, Texas. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in English, and in 2008 she completed her master’s degree in creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Both of these degrees have served her surprisingly well.

During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.

Her first novel, a YA fantasy called The Assassin’s Curse, was released in October 2012.

My Favorite Bit: David D. Levine talks about LETTER TO THE EDITOR

My Favorite Bit icon

Hey. Want to see a video? David D. Levine has brought us something that I think you’ll like.  Now, I have a soft spot for David, so I’m not at all impartial. He and I were in a writing group back in Portland and I think he’s a darn fine short story writer. He’s also a really good reader. This video is a combination of those two skill sets.

So watch “Letter to the Editor” and then let David tell you about his Favorite Bit.


I think my favorite bit of the “Letter to the Editor” video is The Claw.

This video is basically just me doing a dramatic reading of a story I wrote for John Joseph Adams’s forthcoming anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. The first draft of this story was about a famous comic book mad scientist — one who is famous for implicating his superhero adversary for the loss of his hair. I never named the scientist or his rival, but the editor said that was still too close to a copyright violation and I had to change the story to be about a character of my own creation. This change made the story much better in a lot of ways, but I had to come up with a new character name and origin story. In the end, the two questions answered each other: it was his hand, not his hair, that he had lost, and the cruel nickname with which the media had saddled him was Dr. Talon.

The revised story was accepted, and as the release date drew near I had the opportunity to read the story at a convention panel about the anthology. The reading was phenomenally well received, so much so that I read it again at the same convention, and again at another convention shortly thereafter. The crowd reaction was so fabulous, and the nature of the story was such, that I decided it would be a great idea to make it into a video. But I had one major production problem: what kind of prop could I come up with for Dr. Talon’s prosthetic claw? It had to suit the name, it had to look good, and most of all it had to be cheap.

As I began my search for a prop, I knew exactly what I was looking for: a toy called “Awesome Arm” ( which I had wanted when it had first come out but had never bought. But when I looked around, I found that, although there were a lot of other people with fond memories of this toy, the few who had them were not letting go of them. There were none to be found on Ebay or any of the other auction sites.

So I sent a query to a few costumer friends of my acquaintance: do you have, or can you build, some kind of mechanical hand prop? This turned up a few suggestions, but nothing completely satisfactory, and I began to think about using a rubber glove with bits of aluminum foil glued to it. But my friend Julie Zetterberg Sardo passed my query along to her friend Carol Ann Zebold, and Carol wrote to me saying that she had a mechanical hand prop that might suit my needs.

It was the Awesome Arm itself! And she offered it to me for a comparative pittance (in fact, she insisted on selling it to me for less than I first offered).

The actual prop, when it arrived, turned out to be as good as as I’d hoped. It was a right hand, as specified in the story (in fact, no left-handed Awesome Arm was ever manufactured), and it was lightweight, fully articulated, and quite scary-looking. All I needed to do was sew a sleeve extension to cover my real hand and it was perfect for my purposes. It provided a great, character-specific means of expression in the video and was tons of fun to work with.

My original plan for the video was simply to film myself with a webcam, which seemed appropriate for the story, but when I mentioned the project to my friend Robin Catesby she immediately stepped forward and offered to help with the filming. She provided lighting, props, and cinematography services and also edited the final video into shape, including some nifty static effects to cover the transitions between takes. The resulting video is far better than I could ever have produced by myself.

So now the video is done and is available for the world to see at I hope you’ll find the story and performance engaging, and when the anthology is available I hope you’ll buy a copy. (That’s The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, edited by John Joseph Adams, available for pre-order now and on sale everywhere on February 19. See for more information.)

David D. Levine is the author of over fifty published science fiction and fantasy stories. His work has appeared in markets including Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, and Realms of Fantasy and has won or been nominated for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Campbell. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule, with whom he co-edits the fanzine Bento. His web page is


My Favorite Bit: Susan Froetschel talks about FEAR OF BEAUTY

My Favorite Bit icon

This week we move out of my usual SF and Fantasy fare into a novel that explores conflict in Afghanistan with Susan Froetschel’s Fear of Beauty.  Her essay on the novel is really interesting and she is also sharing an excerpt with you.

Now, let me get out of the way so you can read about her Favorite Bit?


If I must choose one favorite bit from what’s now my favorite novel, then it must be a section midway through Fear of Beauty. Sofi dwells on a last memory of her father from many years before when she left her childhood home. She doesn’t know her age, because birthdays are not celebrated in rural Afghanistan, and didn’t understand that she was heading off for an arranged marriage, never seeing her parents again.

Fear of Beauty by Susan FroetschelBefore committing to a mystery set in rural Afghanistan, I headed to the nearest university library in and explored old books from the 1920s and 1930s, published after the country had shed British influence and declared independence. The photographs of steep mountains, productive and golden fields, intrigued and inspired my writing. Since 2001, I had already delved into reading news stories that describe a way of life with minimal education for girls, parents selecting marriage partners for their children, the constant hardship of providing food for families without electricity, running water or other conveniences.

I also sorted through my own childhood memories and could imagine a mother treasuring the last memory of her father and a two-day donkey trip two decades before – partly because my own mother died when I was eight years old and because I’m now old enough to realize that daily routines, our surroundings, can change without warning.

Love for family is an emotion shared by every culture and centers on caring about another’s future, shared or not. Even when Louis May Alcott wrote “Love is a great beautifier,” in Little Women, she was describing Meg at work, preparing for marriage. Despite their inevitable separation and a lack of education, Sofi’s father wants to ensure a secure future for his oldest daughter. He taught her the skills to raising a variety of crops and, before they part, he hands over a small package of bulbs, advising her to start her own secret garden that can contribute to her family’s comfort.

This section (pages 190 to 193) flowed, easy to write as I recalled many pleasant childhood memories with my father. Children enjoy spending time with fathers, so often away, busy at work or traveling. Any time alone with parents, away from other siblings, is special, too. I still remember my dad taking me to the library every other weekend, letting me borrow as many books as allowed. An accountant, he taught me how to log canceled checks in a ledger, and we sat on the floor and sorted out hundreds of cancelled checks every month or so. One Christmas, he gave me a tape recorder for pretend interviews, him as silly politician to my role as broadcast journalist. He got excited about school assignments, encouraging me to work on them early, in third grade handing over scraps of plywood – showing me how to sand the wood and add hinges for a special book-report cover.

Parents can’t be sure which events will transform into lasting memories, and there’s no one way for loving parents to prepare their children for the future. In any society, feelings run strong about parenting methods. Some steer their children toward specific careers, and others are more hands off. For some parents, education is a chore to endure, and others encourage curiosity and a love for lifelong learning – even when no teachers or schools are available. Strict parents can push their children to achieve and confront risk.

Children observe their parents, their attitudes about work and life, their approaches to conflict and problem-solving. The methods may or may not pass down through families. Children taught to learn on their own can sense other possibilities, and every day make decisions about whether to abide by a parent’s values or defy them. Parents often don’t know what memories they’re making or how their respective societies have reinforced the patterns.

Back to Fear of Beauty… other men of the village urge Sofi’s father to leave without saying farewell, and watching from a window, she knows that she’ll never see her father again. The section closes with Sofi’s thought: “At that moment, I realized that the men had no more control than the women do.” At that moment, the protagonist concludes that she can no longer wait for her husband or the men of her village to take action and prevent crimes being plotted near her village.

Childhood memories, sibling rivalries, parental reactions to young love, a family’s quest for happiness, influence or wealth – all are part of the foundation for lifelong contentment or resentment and serve as motivations for many a crime in mystery novels and real life – whether in the United States or Afghanistan.

And if we don’t completely agree with how we were raised as children – strict or flexible, curious or closed, with emphasis on education, wealth or strength – sometimes we discover that we have more in common with strangers than those closest to us.


From Fear of Beauty (Seventh Street Books, 2013). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

My father had delivered me to Laashekoh years ago. I lost exact count. My mother and the other women in the family dressed me in colorful clothes and arranged my hair with a pretty veil saved for my special day. The family laughed and cheered, praising my strength, disposition, and good fortune.

I was the oldest of my siblings, and the memories feel odd with every passing year as my parents remain young and healthy. During that happy celebration, it had never occurred to me that it would be my last memory of them.

With tears in her eyes, my mother embraced me and my father lifted me gently to our donkey. The younger children danced and waved, and I waved in return as my father and I set off on a grand adventure.

At some point during the trip, my father assured me that I was one of the lucky ones, moving on to a village with good farmland. My male cousin was only six years older and his family promised that they would wait at least a few months before we began our life together or thought about having children. And I smiled with joy because time with my father was all that mattered to me.

The trip took more than two full days, with only a few stops. The last stop was not far from the tight trio of mountains my father had pointed to as our destination. Always thoughtful, he chose the beautiful scene as a place to sit, drink water, and have one last talk alone.

I have something to give you, and you must tuck it away until you can find the right place for planting. He pulled a package from his pocket and slowly unwrapped it. These are yours, to remind you of home.

Inside were tiny corms that burst into the flowers and cloaked a nearby hill in purple every autumn. With every year, the cloak expanded, as my parents dug up the green strands and separated the corms, spreading them into other nooks. In the fall, the children helped my mother pluck the golden threads from delicate blossoms that emerged only for a day. I accepted the packet and should have been delighted. But I sensed a serious break in the life I had always known. There was no talk of my returning home, and I dreaded not seeing the cloak of purple near my home again.

My father put his hand to my chin and gave directions: They’re not many, and they are our secret. Tuck them in your bundle. That’s a good girl. Keep them until you find a good place away from other people. Plant them wisely, and remember how we took care of them together as a family.

Dread of the future filled me, and I could not speak.

The family we are meeting. They are kind people. In a few years the threads will help your family.

Then he followed my mother’s directions, smoothing my hair, brushing dust away from the shalwar, adjusting my chaadar. My happiness returned, and I smiled at him, because fathers did not typically bother with such details. As he returned me to the donkey, tears showed in his eyes. At that moment, I hoped he might change his mind and decide to take me home. But with nothing more to say, we continued on our way.

As we rode into the village, the donkey was weary, and my father was quiet. We stopped at a large house, and women immediately pulled me inside and covered me in new clothes that were big, soft, and warm. Someone showed me the kitchen where I would work and the bed that

I’d share with my cousin’s sisters.

Shhh, one of the younger girls whispered and pulled me close to the window where we could watch my father talking with her father and Parsaa’s, too. My father handed over some bills and a bundle of embroidered sashes, in the fiery colors of gold, orange, red. The two men held each other’s shoulders and kissed.

She’s a good girl, my father said, the most intelligent of my children, and you know me well enough that this praise is not false. I had never heard my father express such an opinion before and dipped my head to hide my pride.

Parsaa’s father offered mutual assurances. She’ll be a great help. The other women in the village will help her get settled.

I must leave before sunrise. Should I say farewell to her tonight?

Let us explain, the older man said. She is with the other girls, so why upset her? She fits in well already and will forget her old life soon enough. Upset, my father looked toward the house, but did not see us peering into the dark. You’re young. Parsaa’s father laughed and put a hand to my father’s shoulder. This is your first daughter. The other men in your village should have warned you.

Pressing my hands against the mud and rock walls, I yearned for my father to change his mind, furious he didn’t retort that his daughter would never forget. But he nodded slowly and walked away, the sweet donkey nudging at his shoulder. To think I’d never pat that animal’s head again or chase our chickens or sit at my mother’s feet stung at me. I wondered if the donkey would forget about me, too. Would my father ride home, and forget, enjoying life with my mother and younger brothers and sisters?

I could not help feeling resentment, but turned to my new friend, pretending not to care. Girls had always left our village, and the boys stayed. That was the village’s custom, and I knew that I would not have this friend for long.

At that moment, I realized that the men had no more control than the women do.


Fear of Beauty amazon | B&N | indiebound


Fear of Beauty is Susan Froetschel’s fourth novel. She taught writing and journalism at Yale and Southern Connecticut State University, and is now a consulting editor at YaleGlobal Online, a free public-service magazine about globalization, defined as the interconnectedness of our world through people, products and ideas. The book is published by Seventh Street Books.


My Favorite Bit: Felix Gilman talks about THE RISE OF RANSOM CITY

My Favorite Bit iconWhen I was living in New York, I lived around the corner from Felix Gilman. Really. Just around the corner. We met at one of the KGB readings and had that funny thing where you slowly realize that you are neighbors. I picked up a copy of his first book, Thunderer, and was blown away by it. It’s like he takes the New Weird movement but makes it accessible. I am fascinated by his imagination.

The new book, the Rise of Ransom City, fascinates me all over again because it sounds like it was written a hundred years ago. It does not sound like Felix, but the richness of the world and the vibrancy of the characters is still there.

So what’s his Favorite Bit?


I love the cover design. The cover design is the only thing about the book that I can love unreservedly, without any equivocation or second-guessing or sudden attacks of anxiety, because I had nothing to do with it. Nice work, guys.

The hardback is also satisfyingly heavy. Heavier than a lot of other hardbacks, if I do say so myself. Not too heavy to read on the bus, but with a good solid heft to it. Feels like you’ve got value for money, you know?

the Rise of Ransom City by Felix GilmanWhat else?

OK: I loved writing in Harry Ransom’s voice, and I will miss him now the book’s done. I don’t really buy it when writers talk about characters taking over books and charting their own course – my characters go where I tell them, damn it, or I will know the reason why – but this was definitely a book that was built around a particular voice. (In fact, the first draft was very different, and it had to be painstakingly cut down and re-centered around that character; anyway, old wounds).

Backstory: Harry Ransom is the book’s narrator. “Professor” Harry Ransom, he sometimes calls himself. The book is his rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-who-knows-what’s-next story. Harry is a sort of genius, probably. He grew up in a small mining town in the middle of nowhere; a childhood sickness and a miracle cure left him with an obsession with light and electricity. As a young man, he heads out to the western frontier to make his fortune, looking for investors in his wondrous Free-Energy Lightbringing Apparatus. Later he does get rich and famous in the big cities back east, though not in the way he expected. He gets caught up in the Great War between the horrible supernatural forces of the Gun and the Line, and some bad things happen and he becomes sort of notorious. The book that’s in the reader’s hands is (this is the conceit) composed from the letters he sends back as he heads out west again, this time for good, to found his utopian community of Ransom City – he’s setting the story straight, he’s settling some old scores, he’s recruiting followers. He’s trying to strike a balance between salesmanship and sincerity. He’s an enthusiast, a high-energy salesman, a bullshit artist who is also almost as brilliant as he thinks he is, a utopian dreamer. All of this is fun to write.

What’s also been fun is seeing readers’ responses. Obviously Harry is not entirely reliable. (Who is?) Obviously he’s not just making it all up, either. (Who would write a 368-page book that is entirely unreliable even on its own terms? Not someone who wants it published, that’s who). Different readers have had very different takes on Harry’s precise level of sincerity and fidelity to facts. That’s satisfying for me as a writer, and also allows me to stroke my chin and say how interesting that you think that as if I wrote the whole thing as an elaborate psychological experiment; which perhaps I did.

Can I do another? I loved writing legal stuff into the book. In real life, I’m a litigator. I don’t care for legal thrillers as such but I like fantastic, absurdist takes on the law, and have always meant to get around to writing a proper Legal Fantasy. In prior drafts I had courtroom scenes — legal battles over Harry’s dubious patents. Very little of that survived the flensing process. Really just Chapter 25, “The Injunction,” which is only about two pages long, and is about an injunction. Probably for the best, really.


the Rise of Ransom City  amazon | b&n | indiebound


Felix Gilman is the author of three novels: Thunderer, Gears Of The City, and The Half Made World, which was one of Amazon’s Top Ten SF/F novels of 2010, and was described by Ursula LeGuin as “gripping, imaginative [and] terrifically inventive.” His new book, the Rise Of Ransom City, came out November 2012. He lives in New York.

My Favorite Bit: Jaine Fenn talks about QUEEN OF NOWHERE

My Favorite Bit iconFor the first My Favorite Bit of 2013, we have Jaine Fenn who brings us Queen of Nowhere. Here’s what the publisher says about it.

When paranoia is a way of life, trust doesn’t come easily. The Sidhe look like us. They live amongst us. What they lack in numbers they make up with their fearsome mental abilities and the considerable physical resources at their disposal. And their biggest advantage? No one believes they exist. Almost no one. Bez, the best hacker in human-space, is fighting a secret war against them. Always one step ahead, never lingering in one place, she’s determined to bring them down. But she can’t expose the Hidden Empire alone and when the only ally she trusted fails her she must accept help from an unexpected quarter. Just one misstep, one incorrect assumption, and her Sidhe trap – her life’s work – could end in vicious disaster. Worse, if Bez fails then humanity may never have another chance to win free of the manipulative and deadly Sidhe …

And now, here’s Jaine’s Favorite Bit.


I’m not a trained scientist. More unusually for someone who writes SF, I’m not a gadget-fiend, so whilst I understand the urge to sacrifice all at the altar of Shiny! I can resist.

A clever bit of tech in a story pleases me, and in my own stuff I try for consistency and scientific accuracy (except for the bits that obey Clarke’s Third Law), but I’ll never come up with some of the harder SF concepts writers that Alastair Reynolds or Charles Stross manage.

So then, just what is my ‘thing’?

Queen of Nowhere coverIt’s the urge found in a lot of fiction, but which SF lets the writer indulge to the max: Megalomania.

In Queen of Nowhere I get to fully exercise my inner demi-god. The novel is the story of Bez, a genius hacker trying to bring down a galactic conspiracy that (almost) no one believes is real. That ‘almost’ is important, because she does encounter people who are in the know and who could be of help in her near-impossible task. Except, of course, they have their own agenda.

And here’s where the first authorial evil cackle can be heard, because obviously I know what her potential allies are really up to. Or even, in some cases, what they really are. Anyone who has read the earlier Hidden Empire books will know about certain characters, and I like the idea of readers who’ve followed those other story-lines being in on the secret too, though that’s not a necessity. But in one case, no one knows – although the clues are there if you look carefully. Bez herself only finds out the full truth at the very end, and though I’m obviously not going to let on what the deal is with her strangest ally, I will say this: it’s the sort of universe-changing secret you don’t get to play with outside the SF genre.

As well as messing the reality itself and having fun with the fates of my characters (bwa-ha-ha – sorry, that just slipped out), I also get to build whole new worlds. Several of them. Or rather, new cultures. I was a humanities student, and I love twisting the rules when creating new cultures, to see what comes out (hopefully without inadvertently thieving from or offending any existing human cultures – that can be a fine line to walk). I had a number of chances to come up with new worlds in Queen of Nowhere because although the book is Bez’s story, her plans affect the whole of human space. She visits several worlds in the course of the novel, and influences the fate of people on many others … and vice versa as, mistress of data though she is, she can’t know everything. And in this case, what she doesn’t know can definitely hurt her…


Queen of Nowhere: amazon

Jaine Fenn studied Linguistics and Astronomy at college before spending a decade and a half developing a healthy distrust of technology whilst working in computing. She lives in Hampshire, England with her husband and her books.

As well as numerous short stories she is the author of the Hidden Empire series which started in 2008 with Principles of Angels and is published by Gollancz. Queen of Nowhere is the fifth book in the series, but it’s not necessary to read all the preceding ones as there will not be a test.

She is nowhere near as smart as Bez.

My Favorite Bit: Anne Lyle talks about THE MERCHANT OF DREAMS

My Favorite Bit
Anne Lyle also writes historical fantasy, which is one of my happy places for fiction. Her first book was set in Elizabethan England, but the new one takes us to Venice.
What’s her Favorite Bit?
When I started planning the sequel to my Elizabethan fantasy novel “The Alchemist of Souls” way back in 2007, I knew I wanted to set it in Venice, which I had visited a few years earlier. Not only is it a beautiful and fascinating city, but it has also changed very little in the past few hundred years, making it a great setting for a historical novel. I ended up throwing out that first draft and rewriting the book (now titled “The Merchant of Dreams”) from scratch, but the setting and some of the key characters remained, TheMerchantOfDreams-224and I knew I wanted to go back there to research it properly.
First, though, I did some online research for my book, and whilst looking into the different kinds of boats used in Venice (they didn’t just have gondolas, you know!) I came across a website belonging to an ex-pat Brit who owns a renovated medieval palazzo in Venice and rents out rooms on occasion. I contacted him, and arranged to stay for a few nights with my husband. It was the perfect place for a writer’s research trip: tucked away in one of the less touristy areas, right on the canal-side with a little garden – and free wifi 🙂
Although it has been renovated, the palazzo still has some Renaissance features, like the huge stone pillars in the living room (formerly a storeroom/gondola dock, since regular flooding makes it inadvisable to live on the ground [first] floor of Venetian houses) or the ornate marble hood of the fireplace in the dining room. Note that when I say “palazzo”, this is what all Venetian houses tended to be called, to distinguish them from the multi-occupancy tenements where the lower classes lived. The other word for such a place is “ca'”, the Venetian dialect form of Italian “casa”. Most houses have names (e.g. Ca’ Dario, which appears later in the book), but I felt I couldn’t use the real name of this one (Ca’ Malcanton) because it bears an uncanny similarity to that of my protagonist, Mal Catlyn. (Cue “Twilight Zone” theme…)
Of course I had to put it into my book, so I made it the home of the English ambassador and thus my spy characters’ base of operations in the city. Queen Elizabeth I didn’t actually send an ambassador to Venice, but since I’m writing alternate history this gives me a bit of licence. Still, I made him relatively unimportant and unregarded – at this stage in history, England was not established as a world power – and hence this tiny palazzo in the suburbs fits his position nicely.
I had to make a fair bit up, since we weren’t allowed all over the house, but many of the details are entirely accurate. The uppermost floor consists of two main attic rooms, as described in the novel, and there really is a pomegranate tree in the garden. In my book it’s summer and the tree is in flower, but when we were there in October it was fruiting and we had the seeds in our breakfast fruit salad.
Finding these little nuggets of reality – the details of real peoples’ lives – amongst the dust of the past is one of the main reasons I love writing historical fantasy. Right now I’m working on the final instalment of the trilogy, set mainly here in England, which is giving me an excuse to visit all my favourite Tudor places, from the Tower of London to Hampton Court Palace. In fact I visit them so often, I bought the annual membership card!

The Merchant of Dreams (Night’s Masque)


Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.

It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every spare hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in imaginary pasts or invented worlds. Her Elizabethan fantasy series debuted earlier this year with “The Alchemist of Souls”, and the sequel “The Merchant of Dreams” is published on December 18th. She is currently working on the final volume in the trilogy, “The Prince of Lies”, due out November 2013.

My Favorite Bit: Howard Andrew Jones talks about THE BONES OF THE OLD ONES

My Favorite Bit icon

When I was first introduced to Howard A. Jones he mentioned this book he was working on, which he said was sort of like a cross between Arabian Nights and Sherlock Holmes. The first book, The Desert of Souls, totally lived up to that elevator pitch.  Rollicking! He’s back with the sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones,  and I think you’ll enjoy hearing about his Favorite Bit.


In my stories, Dabir ibn Khalil is sort of like an Arabian Sherlock Holmes – except that he’s not as infallible as the famous Englishman – so let’s say that his deadliest enemy, Lydia Doukas, is a little like Irene Adler, except with necromantic powers. And she, more than any particular scene, is my favorite part of The Bones of the Old Ones.

Bones of the Old Ones by Howard A. JonesHer relationship with Dabir has sort of an odd origin, one birthed not from historical fiction or fantasy, but space opera. When I was 9 and looking over the paperback book rack at the neighborhood Goodwill I chanced upon E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Skylark Duqesne. I didn’t know much about the history of science fiction or what was new/old/groundbreaking and, like I said, I was 9, so you’ll have to forgive me for thinking this back cover copy was one of the coolest things ever written:

Dick Seaton & Marc DuQuesne are the deadliest enemies in the Universe—their feud has blazed among the stars & changed the history of a thousand planets. But now a threat from outside the Galaxy drives them into a dangerous alliance as hordes of strange races drive to a collision with mankind! Seaton & DuQuesne fight & slave side by side to fend off the invasion—as Seaton keeps constant, perilous watch for DuQuesne’s inevitable double-cross!

I read and re-read that back cover copy as I tracked down the preceding volumes, anticipating the good times I was to have reading the whole series, culminating in that fantastic ending. By the time I finally read Skylark Duqesne, I had imagined something pretty different from the conclusion Smith delivered. I felt disappointed. I’d kind of enjoyed the book, sure, but it seemed sort of old fashioned, and… I got to wondering what would have happened if it had been done differently.

Decades later I was still thinking about the kind of character dynamics I’d wanted to see, and how I might incorporate an interaction like that into one of my own stories, even if that story was in ancient Mosul rather than deep space. By then I was better informed in genre matters, and just as I took a little from the relationship between Holmes and Adler, I took just a smidge from the whole Batman/Catwoman dynamic. Don’t laugh. Okay, well, laugh a little. Dabir doesn’t dress up in a costume to fight crime, but he is dedicated to justice, and like the Animated Series Batman, he’s pretty smart. Lydia isn’t remotely a sexy cat burglar, but she’s got that “I’m out for my own good” vibe coupled with that whole air of “I’ve had to be tough to make it on my own.” After all, she’s an incredibly gifted woman in a world dominated by men even more than it is today.

I knew anyone who could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Dabir had to be pretty smart, and to have his respect she’d have to be talented and driven. Lydia’s got all of that going on. She’s smarter than just about everyone else she meets, so she doesn’t know what to make of the brilliant Dabir, who’s one of the first people she’s ever met that might be her equal. Because the narrator, Asim, had to kill her father in the previous book, Lydia wouldn’t especially mind seeing Asim dead, and that naturally doesn’t sit well with his best friend Dabir.

Just as Seaton and DuQuesne had no choice but to ally, Lydia and Dabir have to join forces to stop the disaster Lydia herself had a hand in creating. Watching those two and Asim try to find a way to work together was some of the most fun I’d ever had writing. Each side watches the other for that fatal betrayal at the same time that they’re beginning to feel inklings of trust and even affection for one another. Each new piece of information revealed – sometimes against someone’s wishes — over the course of the novel created so many character sparks for me that great chunks of those conversations are almost identical to their first draft. I could hear the characters so clearly I got it “right” the first time. I wish it always felt like I was taking dictation while rough drafting.

I happen to be proud of a number of things I did in this novel, along with the creation of another important character or four. I like the added complexity I wove in, and I think I somehow managed to pull off the feat of having Dabir be far more brilliant than me (mostly because I give myself a few months to figure out dilemmas he unravels in a minute or two on the page). I’m pleased with the character arcs, and the background mythology and some scenes I don’t want to give away. But for all that, I think most of my favorite parts involve Lydia in some way or another. It’s funny how a beat-up old paperback from a different genre can inspire you. I wonder if The Bones of the Old Ones would even have been written if someone hadn’t turned over that old novel to Goodwill thirty some years back?


The Bones of the Old Ones:  amazon | B&N | indiebound

When not spending time with his family Howard can usually be found hunched over a laptop or notebook, mumbling about doom-haunted towers and flashing swords. His debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (St.Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books 2011) made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its standalone sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, released this week, has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. He is hard at work on a third historical fantasy novel as well as a sequel to his Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows.

My Favorite Bit: Jeremy Zimmerman talks about KENSEI

Allow me to introduce you to Jeremy Zimmerman, who I first met when I was one of the pros at a writing workshop. At these things, you see a lot of stories that are… challenged.  But sometimes you get lucky and you get a writer like Jeremy, where you look at the story and think — “Hey! This guy can write. Thank god.”

He’s got a novella he’s going to tell you about.  The publisher’s description goes like this:

Cobalt City, Jewel of New England, has been the home of superheroes since the first people settled on the rocky shore. But as the old heroes move away, die, or retire, it falls to a new generation to step up and bear the burden—protecting Cobalt, and the world, from the nefarious plans of madmen and malicious Gods. Join a diverse band of new teen heroes as they pick up the mask, challenge destiny, and dare to become legends.

But let’s see what Jeremy says his Favorite Bit is…


Kensei is a superhero young adult novella set in the shared universe of Cobalt City. It’s being published with two other novellas under the title Cobalt City Rookies. Research for the character, who I originally envisioned as an opportunity to write someone very different from myself, involved the chance to reach out to other people, make new friends, and have deep conversations with old friends. A thirty-something straight white guy doesn’t try to write respectfully about a teenage lesbian biracial superhero without going outside his usual circles. But that isn’t my favorite bit. More than anything else, including flat track roller derby had a big impact on my life and the shared universe.

The titular character, Kensei, was born in a short story I had written for another project for Timid Pirate. When they first approached me to write Kensei into a longer work, I mulled around things I might want to include in the book that I’d wanted to write about. At that time, my wife and I had been fans of roller derby for a couple years and she had recently begun volunteering as an official for the Jet City Roller Girls and the Seattle Derby Brats. I had wanted to write something fantastical about roller derby, but hadn’t put anything to paper. While it didn’t work for my protagonist to play roller derby, I was soon able to find a way to use roller derby as both a plot element and a connection to other corners of the shared universe.

The first immediate challenge was understanding derby better. The idealized vision of the sport from the bleachers is not the same as the view from the ground. My wife banned me from roller skating after my first attempt ended in a fractured elbow and a trip to the emergency room (and physical therapy, and surgery, and more physical therapy…), so I volunteered in non-skating capacities. All told, the experience was positive. I’ve made many friends and gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of the sport.

Creating both adult and junior roller derby leagues that fit into the shared universe was the next hurdle I faced. My favorite derby league names often invoke some aspect of their city. Seattle’s Rat City Roller Girls invoke an old nickname for the Seattle-area neighborhood named White Center. Kitsap County’s Slaughter County Roller Vixens draws upon the original name for that county, named after Lt. William Alloway Slaughter.

But Cobalt City, being a fictional New England metropolis, had no origin for its name within the setting. Its history reached back to the American Revolution, where some of the stranger battles of the war had been fought. It was also a place that attracted more than its share of superheroes. But neither of these really provided any ideas. I consulted with the publisher, Wikipedia, and friends involved with roller derby. The first thing we came up with was that cobalt is used in glass and porcelain. Then we realized that the word “cobalt” comes from the German word “kobold,” which roughly translates to “goblin.” We decided on a disputed origin for the name, one which involves early Cobalt City’s glaziers and another that ties into pre-Cobalt City myths of goblins living in the area. The adult league became the Goblin Town Roller Girls, the junior league became the Glass-Eyed Dolls.

The part that takes this up another notch for me is the impact it had on the setting. After coming up with the disputed theories behind the name, Nathan Crowder included it in an episode of the audio drama, Cobalt City Adventures Unlimited. The previously unnamed river that runs through the city became the Puckwudgie River, a reference to the goblin-like creatures of Wampanoag folklore. And because of overlap with some elements of Kensei, another book written in the shared universe focused on one of the founders of the Goblin Town Roller Girls.

Making friends, getting a wicked scar from roller skating, and infecting a shared-world setting? I call that a win.


Cobalt City Rookies


Jeremy Zimmerman is a teller of tales who dislikes cute euphemisms for writing like “teller of tales.” His short fiction has most recently appeared in 10Flash Quarterly, Arcane and anthologies from Timid Pirate Publishing. Kensei is his first book to see the light of day. In his copious spare time, he publishes Mad Scientist Journal. He lives in Seattle with five cats and his lovely wife (and fellow author) Dawn Vogel. You can learn more about him at and more about Kensei and Cobalt City Rookies at


My Favorite Bit: Cassie Alexander talks about MOONSHIFTED

One of the things that I enjoy about Cassie Alexander is that she’s an actual nurse, so the medical stuff in her books is right. Her newest novel, Moonshifted, continues to follow Nurse Edie Spence as she tends to super-natural creatures. This time, her patient is the victim of a hit-and-run — oh, and he’s a werewolf.

So what’s her Favorite Bit?


It took a while for me to come up with my favorite bit from Moonshifted that wouldn’t be giving anything away – and then after I realized what it was, it seemed so self-evident. If you’re a writer, there’s always a few scenes you know you want to get to – one of the ones you write the entire rest of the book to get to write, and for me, that scene was the MRI scene near the end of the book.

MRIs are the magnetic resonance imaging machines that use electromagnets and radio waves to visualize internal parts of your body. Because of the way they’re constructed, using liquid helium to cool the superheated magnets, you can’t actually turn them off without “quenching” the magnets and releasing the helium off as a gas. They’re honest to goodness magnetic, all of the time – which sometimes people realize too late.

This was used as a side story on ER and also, I believe, in House. But it’s only fictionable for them (and me!) because people have had so many problems in real life.

Here’s an article about an off-duty cop getting his gun trapped in an MRI machine — the force of the magnetic field made the gun discharge.

And here’s a series of great images of things getting pulled into MRI machines – gurneys, wheelchairs, walkers, floor polishers, and most worrisomely, welding tanks.

And people desperately trying to get a chair out of an MRI machine (because quenching the magnet would cost them a ton):


Last but not least, my own MRI story – I’d been working a long shift when I had to take a patient down to MRI and I was down there with them sedating them (loooong story) for several hours, at the end of which my stomach hurt. For one horrible second, as I was leaning over the patient to reach their PICC line, all I could think was, “Jesus Christ, this thing had better not be sucking out my IUD!”…but then I realized I was just hungry. (What can I say, it’d been a really long shift.)

MRIs – they’re awesome, they’re a little scary, and the scene with the MRI in Moonshifted is definitely my favorite bit.

Thanks Mary! 😀


Moonshifted  amazon | B&N | indiebound

BIO:  Cassie Alexander is a registered nurse and the author ofMoonshifted, her second novel out from St. Martin’s Press.


My Favorite Bit: Nancy Kress talks about FLASHPOINT

Nancy Kress is one of those writers that I have to work hard not to squee all over. I have loved everything that she has written. She has a new book out, Flashpoint, which I am very excited about.

Nancy has also, consistently, given me some of the best writing advice both in terms of fiction and overall career sanity. One of the things that I love most about her as a writer and a person is that she never stops asking questions. Her work evokes strong feelings in part, I think, because of how deeply personal it is.

How so? You’ll see when you take a look at her Favorite Bit.


Recently a friend asked me, “Why do you write so often about strained relationships between sisters?”

“Do I?” I said, surprised. Then I thought about it. I do.

Beggars in Spain, my most commercially successful novel, features two sister, Leisha and Alice, at odds with each other. A host of my short stories, including the current “Mithridates, He Died Old” (Asimov’s, January), also have two warring sisters. And two sisters are at the heart of my new YA novel, Flash Point (Viking). But none of these works are actually about sisterly relations. Beggars is about genetic engineering; “Mithridates” about judgment; Flash Point about a future TV reality show for teens. And yet there the sisters are.

Do I have a sister? Yes. Do we ever have issues? Yes. Are we nonetheless good friends bound by unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty? Yes.

But I also have two brothers, two sons, two parents, and a husband. And although I do write about those kinds of relationships as well, my friend’s comment made me realize that I don’t do so as often, or as intensely, as about a pair of sisters. Why?

The only honest answer: I have no idea. Unlike other writers I know, much of my creative process does not seem to be under my control. I write like a person running past a haunted house at night: get the first draft down as fast as possible and don’t look back. My unconscious does a lot of the composition, and apparently my unconscious is concerned about sisterhood.

The sisters in Flash Point, Amy and Kaylie, have a complicated relationship. In a near-future United States in economic crisis, sixteen-year-old Amy tries to earn money for her dying grandmother by taking a job as a contestant on a new TV reality show. The show invites viewers to predict how the seven teen-aged contestants will behave in various bizarre ‘scenarios.’ The contestants themselves don’t know in advance when these scenarios will occur or what they will be, and initially—and disastrously—Amy often guesses wrong. She finds allies among the other kids as well as enemies. Each scenario on the show becomes riskier than the last as the producers attempt to drive up ratings. Meanwhile, the United States moves toward riots and then revolution by unemployed and desperate citizens. The political situation is exploited by the show.

Amy’s sister Kaylie is a wild card in this mix. Given to shop-lifting, she gets herself on the show, where both her behavior and romances are unpredictable. She is jealous of Amy, yet needs her. Amy attempts to control both their participations in the increasingly desperate scenarios. This does not work well.

My sister, Kate Konigisor, is an actress in New York, a profession even more uncertain than writing.

She is incredibly talented. We see each other whenever we can, and stay in close touch. She is nothing like Kaylie, or Alice, or Beth in “Mithridates.” But in some convoluted way I don’t understand and probably never will, she has influenced what my unconscious throws my way to write about. Kate is my favorite bit, and I’m grateful.

Although not grateful enough to cut her in on the royalties.


Flashpoint:  amazon


Nancy Kress is the author of over thirty books of science fiction and fantasy, the most recent of which (released two weeks ago) is FLASH POINT.  Her work has won four Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for PROBABILITY SPACE).  She lives in Seattle with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, and Cosette, the world’s most spoiled toy poodle.


My Favorite Bit: Blake Charlton talks about opening sentences

Today’s piece is a little unusual, and fantastic. Blake Charlton talks about his favorite bit of fiction in general, the opening line, and in the process gives some darn fine advice. As you can probably guess, I’m sensitive to the subject of opening lines so this one really resonated for me. I think you’ll like it, too.

And now, let me get out of the way and let Blake talk about his Favorite Bit.


“The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace,” the wonderful Jhumpa Lahiri recently noted. True, sometimes. But sometimes a first sentence is a sucker punch.

Personally, when cracking open a new book, I want it to take a swing at me.

“It’s a new elevator, freshly pressed to the rails, and it’s not built to fall this fast.” That’s my favorite first sentence. It comes from Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, a brilliant speculative novel about race relations.

The supposedly great first sentences lauded in English classes or cocktail parties give me headaches. “Call me Ishmael.” Really? Why don’t I call you Herman, middle name Sleepy Opener, last name Melville. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Thanks for the un-provable platitude, Tolstoy. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch…” It was, in fact, the epoch of wandering first lines, Chuck.

What I’m after is a jolt, a mixture of confusion and curiosity.  Why, exactly, did you just sock me in the jaw? Perhaps I want an abusive first sentence because of my disability. Being dyslexic, I didn’t learn to read until age 13. And even after I learned, many sentences still felt like they had just pushed me into the deep end…with concrete in my shoes. Maybe I’m odd to love what I used to fear. But I’m guessing you like some of these sentences too. Consider…

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Gibson’s Neruomancer says BLAMO!  “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” In 1984, Orwell opens with KAPOW! “They shoot the white girl first.” Toni Morrison goes SOCKO in Paradise.

A great first sentence doesn’t mean what follows is great. And, as I hope I demonstrated two paragraphs above, a soggy first sentence can still lead to a captivating read. But, all other things being equal, I’ll take the book with a dynamite first line. I don’t suppose my opening sentences come close to my favorites, but I work hard on them.  The first sentence is, in some ways, my favorite bit of each story. Here they are. I hope one of them hurts you, just a little.

From “Endosymbiont,”  in the Seeds of Change anthology from Wildside press (2008)

The rattlesnake swallowed its tail until it shrank into a tiny knot.


From Spellwright, Tor Books (2010)

The grammarian was choking to death on her own words.


From Spellbound, Tor Books (2011)

Francesca did not realize she had used an indefinite pronoun until it began to kill her patient.


From “The Lasting Doubts of Joaquin Lopez,” in the Unfettered anthology from Grim Oak Press (forthcoming)

The baby girl floated around the water pump as a small, radiant nimbus.


Finally, here’s a teaser from my work in progress: Spellbreaker, the third and last book in the Spellwright Trilogy. In this latest book, I’ve tried to step up my game and write an opening paragraph sucker punch. Here’s how the draft currently reads:

One way to test a spell that is supposed to predict the future is to try to kill the man selling it. If you can, it can’t. That, at least, is what Leandra was thinking when she decided to poison the smuggler’s black-rice liqueur.


Blake Charlton’s website

Novels: Spellwright,  Spellbound


Author of the acclaimed novels Spellwright and Spellbound, Blake Charlton is also a medical student and a dyslexic.

Currently, Blake is working on his last year of medical clerkships and Spellbreaker, the final novel in the Spellwright Trilogy.  The answer to whatever question you’re currently thinking about sleep deprivation is yes.